Category Archives: art history/books

AUGUST – A MONTH OF ALLEGORIES, ALIASES, AUTHORS AND ALZHEIMERS

Yes, in the month of read a book about an allegory (in a painting), a biography of an author that wrote many books under an alias, and three books about Alzheimers.
Unknown-1 thornton-sisters.jpg.c140b543bea21c6e73e60bbc06277d9bTHE DITCHDIGGER’S DAUGHTERS by Yvonne Thornton MD – This inspiring book was written by one six daughters born to a laborer that worked two 8 hour jobs for 25 years. Donald Thornton wanted all of his daughters to become doctors and be successful independent black women. This is the journey of a family, even becoming a successful band, The Thornton Sisters. Mr. Thornton’s was tough, he was strict, but he gave out the wisest and wittiest advice! All of his daughters succeeded. Did they all become doctors? You’ll have to read it to find out. Here is a little clip of the band.

THE THINGS WE KEEP by Sally Hepworth – This was a book club selection – in fact, I went to an encore discussion that was demanded by members that missed the first discussion.  Anna Forster has early onset Alzheimers, diagnosed at age 38, Her twin brother moves her into Rosalind House, where she meets Luke, who is near her age. When their relationship turns romantic,  a tragic incident causes their families to keep them separated. Is Anna capable of falling in love? Is she be taken advantage of?

There is a supporting older lovable, but quirky elderly characters. The home’s new cook, Eve, gets involved in Anna and Luke’s story and breaks rules to keep them together. Eve’s seven year old daughter understands some of the older people better than anyone. It is written in a non-linear structure, and this mimic’s Anna’s growing disorientation. But it also keeps you wondering about what really happened. All is revealed in the end. Surprisingly, the book isn’t maudlin, some of it is downright funny. While there is no happy ending today for anyone with Alzheimers, I did feel gratified at the end for the future of Anna and Luke.

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STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova – I know – you are probably thinking, wasn’t the previous book enough?  Alice, a world-renowned linguist professor at Harvard, diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 50, with a husband that equally as successful. It is written with a third eye, but the story is told mostly through Alice’s point of view. It starts with Alice innocently forgetting things that she thinks are due to menopause and her busy life. When she gets lost and forgets appointments, she seeks help without telling anyone. Of course, the news is devastating and she has to share it. Because you see most of the book through Alice’s eyes, you see her increasing confusion over the course of the  book. The climax of the book is a speech she delivers to the Annual Dementia Care Conference.

“Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is like being branded with a scarlet A. But I am not what I saw or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that..Please don’t look at our scarlet A’s and write us off.”

The book shows the family adjusting their lives and making compromises. It is told honestly and compassionately.  But, there is no happy ending with this disease.

Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, so she did her research. This is a self-published book which she sent to the Alzheimer’s Association, which endorsed the book.

Yes, I cried. No, I haven’t seen the movie. I will some day, just not today.

THE RED LEATHER DIARY – by Lily Koppel – This was part of a challenge from a group to read a biography by a woman about a woman (of course, I read more than one). Lily Koppel finds a red leather diary locked away in a steamship trunk. It is the the diary of Frances Wolfsen, one she wrote in daily from 1929 through 1934. Not a single day was missed!

Here is a story of a gilded age of the upper West Side. Florence lunched with her friends, went to the nightclub El Morocco at night, shopped at Bergdorf’s, road horses at the Claremont Riding Academy and more. She tells of her first kiss (to a boy), her infatuation with with a famous actress, the starting of a literary salon in her parents apartment.  Even though she is a somewhat spoiled headstrong girl, she is also creative and intelligent.

Koppel searched for Florence, even hiring a private detective. She eventually locates her in her 90’s in Florida and reunites her with her long-forgotten diary. It was a fun book to read!

La Primavera - Botticello

La Primavera – Botticello

BOTTICELLI’S SECRET – by Marina Fiorato – You know you are in trouble when you have to print out the picture of the painting the book is about! This was a book club selection – and it is a book club of women artist’s. It was billed at The DaVinci Code meets The Birth of Venus. But, the painting at the center of the mystery is not the Birth of Venus, but La Primavera. taking place in the 15th century, with prostitute Luciana Vetra posing for the above painting (she is the figure in the center). When Botticelli doesn’t pay her, she steals an unfinished version of the painting. As the bodies pile up, she turns to a priest, and together they go to nine cities in Italy. Are there really secrets embedded in the painting? There has been much speculation about the hidden meanings found in this painting, and this is an interesting take on it. But, the first part is a little tedious, the language profane and explicit.  Yes, Luciana’s potty mouth gets tedious, and I found her language a little too modern at times. (I even looked up several words to see if they were used in the 15th century!). And I learned Italy wasn’t unified as a country until 1815.

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever  – The book I often credit with giving me life long love of reading is Little Women.  It was also my mother’s favorite book, she tried to name me Jo when I was born (my father said no daughter of his would have the name of a boy). So, when I was challenged to read a biography about a woman, written by a woman, I was delighted for find this one. It is a fascinating portrait about an intriguing time of American literature. Her father was a transcendental teacher. When she was young, the family moved to Concord, Massachusetts. It seems whenever the family had financial problems and had to move (which was often), Ralph Waldo Emerson came to their financial help. Other family friends included Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorn. Louisa went to work early as a teacher and seamstress. During the Civil War, she was a nurse in in Georgtown DC for six weeks. catching typhoid, and while she recovered, her health suffered the rest of her life. Her letters home were collected for her first critical recognition. The family also worked for the Underground Railroad.

The most surprising thing I learned is she published sensational pulp fiction under the name A.M. Barnard, a fact that wasn’t discovered until after her death. Incidentally, she died two days after her father – in fact, they had the same birthday.

Alcott resisted writing the book Little Women. Read here 10 things you may not know about Little Women!

EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING by Lauren Weisberger – I’ll read chick-lit with the best of them, but this left me renaming it – NO ONE WORTH KNOWING!

BEFORE I FORGET: LOVE, HOPE, HELP AND ACCEPTANCE IN OUR FIGHT AGAINST ALZHEIMERS by B. Smith and Dan Gasby – This book was recommended to me by someone in my Alzheimer’s Support Group. It is the story of B. Smith, model, restauranteur, author, and talk show host. She is diagnosed at a fairly early age, 65-66. Much of the book is written by her husband, Dan Gasby, along with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shanayerson. It is an honest account of the journey, told by her husband Dan, with portions written by B. herself. But it is also a true love story. It is sprinkled in with hard research, lessons on dealing with, and again love. I’m going to end this with a quote from B herself:

“I know where I’m going. I’m still myself. I just can’t remember things as well as I once did. So on short trips, I work hard not to be confused. I’ll say to myself, What are we going to do? How long are we staying? It’s like I’m talking to my other self—the self I used to be. She tells me, This is what we need to buy—not that. I’m conscious of that other self guiding me now.”

Watch this short video of B. and her husband – it only 2 minutes long.

As you may know, my mother is in memory care now. It is a long journey. The people with the disease need advocates, they can’t speak for themselves. Research for the drugs can run into the billions of dollars.

What can you do? Consider registering with the Brain Health Registry  – it is easy, and it is free. And it will help with understanding the disease and hopefully for a cure, because with this disease, no one gets well,  no one gets out, at least not now.

My  niece Mallory is doing the  Walk to End Alzheimers. Consider making a donation, no amount is too small. Click on her page here to read what she has wrote. Think about it, if you haven’t been touched by the disease, consider yourself lucky, for now.

If you have anything to share about this subject, leave me a comment. I will read them all!

 

 

 

GEORGIA ON MY MIND

I have a quest! I am currently reading a book by an author from each state in the USA – and these are my selections for Georgia, my home state. A bookmark from the library and a book club selection helped me make my picks.

I picked up a bookmark at my local library that lists books Georgians should read. I chose A CLEAR VIEW of the SOUTHERN SKY by Mary Hood, partly because it included a forward by one of my favorite Georgian authors, Pat Conroy. He compared her writing to Alice Munro, George Eliot and Margaret Atwood.prescription035

“She blew into my life with hurricane force winds.”

“Indigenous, she is as much a part of that red clay soil as Vidalia onions, Stone Mountain, boiled peanuts, the Bulldog football team, or the burning of Atlanta.”

Well, the book did not disappoint. Consisting  of nine short stories, it ends with a novella. How can you put down a book that starts with these words?

“Sometimes you just can’t kill the ones you need to.”

All the stories are about women, moving toward or away from something while searching for meaning and happiness. Within these stories, you will meet a Hispanic woman whose mission was to assassinate a mass murderer. We follow her into prison taking an English as a Second Language class as she looks honestly at her life.

There is also a kindergarten teacher who, when stunned by a student’s question, finds her true vocation. A widow befriends a young neighbor,  while a woman trucker contemplates her true love as cell phone messages are sent from tower to tower.  Two stories deal with one man and two women. The book ends with a novella “Seambusters”  about a factory in rural Georgia where a diverse group of women sew camouflage uniforms for United States soldiers, discovering they are all part of a larger purpose.

I will read this book again, so I can’t complain I had to buy it from the library. Apparently, my dog liked it as much as I did as you can see the remains of the cover below.DSCN0564

 

A recent book club selection led me to Terry Kay and  The Book of Marie, which Kay considers his most important book.  Terry Kay can tell you more about this book than I.

What is the book about?  It tells the relationship of Cole Bishop, the hero of the football team, and Marie, the caustic, but brilliant girl from the North.. Through her, Cole learns the  unfairness of the “separate by equal” system prevalent in the South at this time.  The two eventually collude to convince their classmates they are having a great romance. As the valedictorian of the graduating class, Marie gives a scathing speech to “the good white people of Overton County”. She warns them change is coming and they can not stop it.

After this, Marie heads to Harvard, while Cole goes to Atlanta where he writes for the local newspaper, Observing a civil rights protest, a sniper shoots a young black woman, and Cole catches her as she falls. The moment is captured in a photograph that appears in newspapers across the country. Because of this, Cole loses his job and moves to Vermont and becomes a college professor. Marie and Cole maintain a lifelong correspondence.

It ends with the fifty year reunion and shows the changes that have been made.

This is a beautifully written book – as are all book by Terry Kay.  He has said

“My problem as a Southern writer is I didn’t grow up in a dysfunctional family, but I produced one.”

He believes writing is not his God given talent, his talent is for hearing and remembering.  Other books I recommend by Terry Kay are:

To Dance with the White Dog

Valley of Light

The Runaway

I always end my “quest” blogs with some interesting facts about the state I have just visited. So – here are some facts about Georgia:

Georgia had four capitals before Atlanta became the capital in 1868.

Georgia is the largest producer of peanuts and pecans in the United States.

It is the largest state east of the Missisippi River.

Georgia wa the first state to charter a state supported university in 1785, when the University of Georgia as incorporated.

The Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia is the largest freshwater swamp in North America.

Georgia was the first state to lower the legal voting age from 21 to 18 (1945)

Washington, Georgia was the first city to be named for George Washington in 1780.

There are two Nobel Peace Prizes on display in Atlanta, awarded to Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King.

In Gainesville, known as the chicken capital of the world, it is illegal to eat chicken with a fork.

Berry College in Rome has the largest college campus in the world.

Other Georgia writers I want to give a shout out too – as I’m proud to be from such a literate state – are:

  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Joel Chandler Harris
  • Carson McCullers
  • Pat Conroy
  • Erskine Caldwell
  • Harry Crews
  • James Dickey
  • Anne Rivers Siddons
  • Alice Walker
  • Margaret Mitchell

So, next I will travel to the great state of Hawaii – or as we say in the south, and the framed quote I keep in my kitchen says

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JULY READING – A LITTLE OF THIS A LITTLE OF THAT

After being forced into retirement at the end of 2015, one of the first things I wanted to do was join a book club where people actually READ the books! Now, I already organize a book club for women artists, but we meet every other month, so I knew I could handle another one. So, I trotted to the local library and found one that meets monthly. Then I found another that meets every other month at a local restaurant (called Pub Fiction). Okay, I thought, I can handle these. I still have my quest going of reading a book by an author from each state (I’m reading alphabetically, and I’ve read through Georgia). Then I found a group on Facebook called Read the World.  And, so it goes, I’m up to six book clubs now! I can handle this! I have already read as many books this year as I did all year long last year, and my reading  choices have become more varied, and to me more interesting. Here is what I read in July:

SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley: This is the first book in a trilogy (Last Hundred Years trilogy) that follows the Langdon Family in Denby Iowa from 1920 through 1953. Each chapter moves you forward another year. Thankfully, there is a family tree in the front, so it is easy to keep the characters straight.  The details about farming life were well researched. By the end of the book, there are six children born into the family, each with a story of their own.  The book weaves through the Depression, World War II, and even to Washington D.C. and the FBI. I will continue this trilogy, I want to see what happens to these people I came to care about. (Book club selection)

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes: This is the third book I have read by JoJo Moyes, and they are all completely different, in story and in tone. Talk about a tear jerker! It is the story of Louisa and Will. Will was quite the daredevil – jumping out of planes, and also the successful, if ruthless businessman. This all comes to an end when an accident leaves him in a wheelchair. Louisa, who has lived a “safe” and boring life is hired to be his companion. After a rocky start to their relationship, Louisa endears herself to Will. Then Louisa learns her six-month contract is based on the amount of time Will has given his parents before he is going to commit suicide. It’s hard to put down, as Louisa sets out to give Will a reason to live, while Will encourages her to grow. It was worth the two month wait to get it from the library, and I think the wait will be just as long for the sequel, After You.

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THE GREATS OF CUTTERCANE by Terry Kay: I became reacquainted with Terry Kay thanks to a book club. In fact, he came and spoke to us as he lives right down the road in Athens, Ga. This is a book of short stories based on the people of Cuttercane Georgia revolving around the magical legend of Asa’s Spring. Terry Kay generally writes in a very lyrical voice, but some of these stories are down right funny! They are the type of stories I heard growing up in the South! Enjoyable read.

 

OUTLANDER by  Diana Gabaldon: It took me awhile to jump on this bandwagon! This is the 600 page story of Claire, a nurse from World War II, who wakes up in 18th century Scotland, where her path crosses that of Jamie Frasier. What follows is suspense, passion, true love, tragedy and more.  However, it is not for the faint of heart, as it has it’s fair share of both violence and sex.  Jamie and Claire come alive – and I will continue with the series of – how many books now?  Eight? There will probably be a 9th one by the time I get there.

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THE PUPPY DIARIES: RAISING A DOG NAMED SCOUT by Jill Abramson: I don’t normally read dog books – the dog always dies and I always cry. But, I saw it on the shelf at the library and couldn’t resist that little face. Plus it said on the cover it is a “marvelously entertaining chronicle of a puppy’s first year”.  It lived up to that. Abramson wrote a popular column for The New York Time’s website about the raising and training of Scout.  it still is a pretty light read. But if you love dogs, as I do, it is enjoyable. Also – I should note – I had a dog named Scout.

 

THE BOOK OF LIES by Brad Meltzer: This is a twisted tale! Cal Harper works for a rescue mission picking up vagrants that need shelter. He stumbled upon a man who who has been shot, and he ends up being his long lost father. They join forces and begin searching for the lost Book of Cain, and what they believe to be the weapon used in the Bible. His father was shot with a gun that was used in an unsolved murder in 1932 – of Jerry Siegel’s father. Why is this important? Jerry Siegel created Superman. So, you get a bit of both The Bible and comic book lore. And of course, there is a mysterious girl who has befriended his father. I’ve read Brad Meltzer’s books before, but this book kind of jumped around and kind of went into la-la land. But the premise was original I must say. (book club selection)

THE SPARROW: A NOVEL by Mary Doria Russell: I have to admit, I started this book more than once. If it wasn’t a book club selection, I might not have finished it. But,  even with the struggle to read it, the pay off was worth it.  It is a complicated science fiction book about a Jesuit linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a group of scientists and explorers to the planet Rakhat, where they make contact with two races, the Runa and the Jana’ata. The story shifts between 2016- 2019, when they are on Rakhat, to 2060 at the Vatican. Sandoz is being interrogated after being rescued from Rakhat, returning a broken and mutilated man and the only survivor from the expedition. Did the priest really murder a child and become a prostitute? And, what happened to the other members of the party. It definitely provoked some lively discussion in the book club, leading to  discussions about God, moral behavior and exploring new worlds.  Plus, I loved the fact they travelled in space in asteroids. Oh, and there is a sequel – Emilio goes back to Rakhat (Children of God), and I miss Emilio.

I will be volunteering at the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend. This is one of the largest book festivals in the U.S. I managed to get slots during the lectures by two of the authors I read this month, Terry Kay and Brad Meltzer!!! Woohoo!

What have you been reading, and any thoughts on the books I’ve been reading?  In August I will tackle American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and I just might read Winnie the Pooh!

 

 

THE BOOKS I KEEP

To say I’m a reader is an understatement. I am a READER! I chair a book club for women artists and am a member of two more book clubs in the neighborhood. I also take part of an online book club. I start each day with a bath and a book! So, you’d think I have scores and scores of books, but I don’t really. But, there are a few I will keep because they have inspired me and I feel they are part of my life. Why have I kept them? DSCN05131. THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron – I consider this the granddaddy of all books on creativity. Built on the 12 Step premise, it is a 12-week program to take back and embrace your creativity. There are two seminal exercises that are stressed over and over in the book – do the Morning Pages each day and take yourself on an artist day weekly. When I do these two things, my mind is exploding with ideas! It is a great book to work through with a group. Notice the chewed corner of the binder. Apparently, my dog Ziggy liked this book too. (Ziggy is on the left.)DSCN0515

 

2. THE CREATIVE HABIT: LEARN IT AND USE IT FOR LIFE by Twyla Tharp – This is a personal book for Tharp without being a memoir. Vignettes are included about artists such as Beethoven, Einstein and Mozart, which illustrate the value of working hard and digging deep. I learned to practice harder with purpose. This is a great companion piece to The Artist’s Way.41QXnQKvSeL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_

 

3. I’D RATHER BE IN THE STUDIO by Alyson B. Stanfield – Let me start by saying I have been a student of Alyson’s for years and continue to be. I know the care and love that went into the writing of this book. The book is an great tool box, with  information on organization, creating a portfolio (and that long hated artist’s statement), getting involved, getting an on-line presence and more. But, it is stressed you mut have the studio time before YOU ARE AN ARTIST. Each chapter stands alone, and I continue to pick it up and read specific chapters that pertain to what I need at that time!

 

4. BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR by Elizabeth Gilbert – I have to admit I didn’t jump on the Elizabeth Gilbert bandwagon until I read this book. But, it was worth the wait to march in the parade.  The BIG MAGIC we are waiting for will reveal itself to you if you do the work and watch for the signals. Treat your creative work with respect! I no longer go into my studio with threadbare clothes and unbrushed hair, I dress so “my studio” and “my work”  will know I’m serious. While I was reading this book (back to reading in the bathtub), I kept thinking “I need to read this again” or “I need to highlight this”. So, I have kept it to refer back to and reread again.

5, THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT; FINDING THE QUEST THAT WILL BRING PURPOSE TO YOUR LIFE by Chris Guillebeau – Everybody should have a quest at some point in their life. The author’s quest was to visit every country recognized by the United Nations (it took him over 13 years to do it!).  But he makes these crazy goals people have seem doable. It inspired me to start my own quest of reading a book by an author from each state in the United States. When I’m finished with that, I’ll reread the book and come up with another BIGGER quest!

6. HIKING ATLANTA’S HIDDEN FORESTS: INSIDE AND OUT by James McDonald – Beyond the hustle bustle of a city that is home to Coca-Cola and The Home Depot, there is still a tremendous amount of green space here. The book lays out 60 forested walks open to the public within 30 miles of the state capitol. I’ve lived here most of my life and never knew some of these parks existed. I keep it because my goal (see quest above) is to visit all 60 of these places! It makes my dogs happy to get out and explore and it does wonders for my head! Oh, Inside and out refers to those places that are inside I-285 and outside it (this is the perimeter that goes around Atlanta). After all, The Appalachian Trail begins a mere 2 hour drive from here! (Planning a fall drive to do the beginning loop!).

7. THE CLUE IN THE OLD ALBUM by Carolyn Keene – Yes, I’m referring to the Nancy Drew book. Why I included it? My family is in the process of cleaning out my mother’s house, which can be an emotional journey. I found a stash of my old Nancy Drew books and promptly reread them. I include it because I believe reading these books when I was around 10 years old was the seed that began my love of reading and helped mold me into who I am today. It’s always good to review your roots!

8. DAILY RITUALS  – HOW ARTIST’S WORK – by Mason Currey –  The book includes the rituals of 161 of the worlds most creative minds going back 400 years. In it he includes the daily habits of Matisse, Tesla, Fellini, Mahler among others. Part mini biographies, but mostly inspirational. It inspired me to continually work on daily rituals and make them consistent. I review the short stories constantly.

HONORABLE MENTION goes to BIRD BY BIRD: INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Annie Lamott – I can’t find my copy of this book, I must have lent it out and lost it. But, I remember being very inspired – I’ll have to get another copy!

What books have inspired you? There are so many to choose from. I think I’ll think about this while I have my morning bath with a book!DSCN0514

 

 

APRIL AND MAY BOOKS

For the past two months, I have repeated a couple of authors more than once, learned about two different Buddha characters, read a couple of children’s classics, and had a healthy dose of Southern literature.

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THE VALLEY OF LIGHT: A NOVEL: by Terry Kay – This was a book club selection and I loved being reintroduced to Terry Kay, who lives about 60 miles down the road in Athens, Ga. This is a beautifully written, lyrical story about Noah who comes to a small town in North Carolina that is set in the Valley of Light.  He has a magical ability when it comes to fishing. Because Terry Kay is from Georgia, I will be writing more about this when I write about my reading quest (reading a book by an author from each state) as this is one of four (or five) books I read for Georgia. I was also lucky enough to go to a small discussion led by Terry Kay also.

THE RUNAWAY by Terry Kay  – Tom and Son Jesus are born at the same time on the same day – one black and one white.  At 12 years old, they are best friends. Tom is a reader and decides to run away in a Huck Finn inspired episode. Along the way the two boys discover a human bone that ends up being from Son Jesus’ father who was murdered a few years earlier.  Set in Georgia in the 1940’s, there is a sheriff that is more interested in justice than traditional racist thinking. Again, I will share thoughts about this book in my Georgia blog, and some thoughts from Terry Kay himself.  This leads me to the next book:

THE BOOK OF MARIE by Terry Kay – This is Terry Kay’s favorite book, so after I heard him say it, I had to read it. There is an interesting history about this book and the previously mentioned The Runaway.  Terry Kay had written a book that followed the two boys from The Runaway through childhood, through young life where they are separated, into older life, framed by the Civil Rights Movement. But, the publisher thought the first part of the book was what needed to be published – of course, they know better. Terry Kay kept playing around with the remainder of the original story and ended up with this. It is NOT a sequel to The Runaway.  You can hear him speak about this book below.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES; ANNE OF THE ISLAND; ANNE’S HOUSE OF DREAMS by Lucy Maud Montgomery – Believe it or not, this is one of those classic books series I have never read (I found it at mom’s house). I thoroughly enjoyed all three.  It covers the adventures of Anne Shirley who arrives at the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older brother and sister, who were going to adopt a boy to help with the farm. But Anne is sent instead. Of course,  they keep her instead of sending her back. Why would they send her back after spending time with her? She may be talkative, but she has a big and good heart, a positive attitude, a curious nature, and she is always getting into mishaps of her own making (like dying her red hair and ending up with green hair).

THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – no, I have never read this before!  Published in 1943, a year before the author’s plane vanished over the Mediterranean.  The story of a pilot marooned in the desert that meets a tiny prince from a asteroid so small he sees the sunset 44 times a day. There are a lot of lessons in this little treasure, much to think about.  Instead of hashing all this out, I thought I’d share some of the best known quotes:

“All grown-ups were once children…but only a few of them remember it.”

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart can one see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

“I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflied.”

NECESSARY LIES by Diane Chamberlain – This was read for a book club, and boy did it have a good discussion. It takes place in 1960 in North Carolina. Ivy Hart (age 15) lives with her family as a tenant family on a tobacco farm. She is basically the caretaker for her grandmother, her older sister and nephew. Jane Forrester, the newest social worker, must confront the decision to sterilize Ivy without her knowledge. The state contends if you are poor, ill, or deemed “unfit”, you should not have children. This is known as Eugenics, and the Nazi’s did not start this, in fact it was legal in North Carolina into the 1970’s! It was an eye-opener. I couldn’t put it down and it drove me to research the world of Eugenics.

THE GOOD GOOD PIG: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery – I fell in love with this pig, as the runt of the litter he was small enough to fit in a shoebox, He ended up reaching almost 800 pounds! The author is a vegetarian naturalist, her husband is Jewish – so Christopher was never in danger to be slaughtered for food. Set in a small town in New Hampshire. He escapes for jaunts around the town to the point the policeman keeps treats in his car for him to lure him home. Restaurants save leftovers to bring to him weekly and the little girls next door gave him a weekly “spa” day. Even on election day, there were always a few write-in votes for Christopher Hogwood. You follow him through is life of over 13 years (no one knew knew what his life expectancy was as most pigs are slaughtered before the age of one year!) to his trip to Hog Heaven. He was featured on NPR and USA Today. BTW, Christopher Hogwood was named after a conductor in England of the same name (who dedicated a performance to the pig upon his death). He was the first Buddha like character I encountered in the past two months.

Here’s a little video featuring Chris.

THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery  – Yes, this is the same author that wrote The Good Good Pig.  I have to admit, an invertebrate stole my heart!  The octopus Octavia is so alive and has such a personality. Yes, she does recognize her humans and loves to interact with them. As Montgomery watches her lay her eggs -she calls them like “tiny seed pearls on a black string”. I couldn’t  help but be mesmerized by these creatures. Here you can hear her talk about this book.

LUNCH WITH BUDDHA by Roland Merullo – Here is the second Buddha character I met in two months. This is the sequel to Breakfast with Buddha. Otto Ringling is facing an emotional crisis, and once again his sister Cecilia arranges (as she did in the previous book) for him to travel with her husband, Volya Rinpoche, through Washington, Idaho, Montana and finally to the family home in North Dakota. They talk about life and death, marijuana, sexuality, Native Americans while visiting such landmarks at Yellowstone Park.  The book isn’t as playful as Breakfast with Buddha,  there is an underlying theme of grief, but there are profound lessons to be learned. I have Dinner with Buddha to enjoy next!

ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes – I have never read Jojo Moyes and felt it was time to check her out. This is the story of one single mom, a math prodigy daughter, a Goth stepson, and a wealthy stranger.  Together they take a crazy trip across the country to get to the Math Olympiad in Scotland for the daughter. The story is pretty unbelievable, but you want to believe it and you root for them all. Jess and the stranger, Ed, have made some bad choices, but they are good people trying to get ahead in the world. I’ll read more of her books!

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GEORGIA BOTTOMS by Mark Childress – First of all, it is important to note that Mark Childress is from Monroeville, Alabama, the home of both Harper Lee and Truman Capote. The story takes place in Six Points, Alabama, where no one realizes Georgia’s family money is gone. Her mother has dementia, her brother is a drunk. But Georgia has all these balls in the air as she has six lovers, one for each day of the week (she takes Mondays off). The men don’t know about each other and they all leave her a monetary gift. But when the Baptist preacher seems on the verge of spilling the beans, Georgia takes matters into her own hands. The book is funny, the characters are definitely Southern, but it isn’t his best book (TENDER or CRAZY IN ALABAMA are better). But, still it is a good quick read.

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OFF SEASON by Anne Rivers Siddons – The book revolves around Lilly Constable McCall who is married to a successful architect, and  herself a successful sculptor. But her husbands death sends her on a journey to the Maine cottage where Cam (her husband) died, She spent her summers throughout her life there too.  She seems to carry on conversations with a spirit that seems to inhabit the site that has brought so much joy, as well as tragedy in her life. She revisits her 11-year old life and the boy Jon Lowell who is her first love. I’ve read many books by this author that I loved (especially PEACHTREE ROAD), but this one seemed to skim the surface – it is good but not great! And I felt the ending was a cop-out.  But, I plan on re-reading PEACHTREE ROAD.

Do you have any suggestions????

 

A TRIP TO THE SUNSHINE STATE ON MY QUEST

I am currently reading a book from an author from each state  (read about my quest here)- and the most recent state I visit is Florida. Interestingly, many writers you associate with Florida are not actually from there. Because I lived in Miami for three years (and one month and 12 days, but who’s counting?), I wanted to read something written by an actual Floridian. I read two books, a children’s book, and a book that is a collection of op-ed columns from the Miami Herald.

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THE AMERICAN JUNGLE, The Adventures of Charlie Pierce by Harvey E. Oyer III: This is the first book in a trilogy based on Charlie Pierce, written by his great grand nephew. Luckily for us, Charlie Pierce kept extensive diaries! His family were pioneer settlers in South Florida arriving in 1872, one of the first non-Native Americans to settle there. In fact, his sister Lillie was the first while child born between Jupiter and Miami (hard to believe since there are over 6 million people there now).  Not only do they survive a hurricane living in primitive conditions, but they planted salvaged coconuts from a Spanish shipwreck in 1878 resulting in the coconut palms that provided Palm Beach it’s name. If you are interested in the early history of South Florida, pick up this book!

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DANCE OF THE REPITILES: Rampaging Tourists, Marauding Pythons, Larcenous Legislators, Crazed Celebrities and Tar Balled Beaches by Carl Hiaasen:  I have long been a fan of Carl Hiaasen and thought I’d read all his books. But I must admit I was delighted when I found this book containing almost 400 pages of his op-ed columns from the Miami Herald! Carl is a native Floridian (born in Plantation) and has been working for the Miami Herald since 1976, having his own column since 1985. If you have read Carl Hiaasen before and wondered where he comes up with the crazy stories and eccentric characters, look no further, they come from real life, as you can see in these pages! Plus, how could I ignore any book with such a great title?

You can see him being interviewed about it on 60 Minutes:

Yes, according to the world of Carl, truth is stranger in many cases than fiction. The title refers to not only actual reptiles (as in pythons and alligators), but also refers to corrupt lobbyists, politicians, developers and of course the tourists! The essays are backed up by actual facts.

Some of the topics he tackles are:

  • haul off the crazy tourists to tourist court and let the jurors consist of people from the hospitality industry.
  • The idiotic idea by tourist boat captains to feed sharks.
  • Closing major freeways for days from 9a-3p for the filming on a second rate film (Interestingly, the most profitable movie filmed in Florida was Deep Throat).
  • 144,000 pythons are imported each year into the U.S. , with many being dumped  (in the Everglades or course) – and their natural enemies are tigers and jaguars (which are not being imported into Florida that I know of).
  • Gator Panic, people shooting the alligators as we (humans) have invaded their habitation -even though only about 17 people have been killed in Florida since 1948!
  • Manatees reclassified (or downgraded) as threatened (from endangered) because there are now over 3000 of them now.  Whoopee!  a whopping 3000 (with approximately 10% killed by humans annually)  Why?  Developers want to build docks where the manatees like to frolic, and the boaters (and the boating industry) are tired of having to slow down!
  • Dolphins being hit by boats because humans started feeding them for fun (which is illegal, but who’s watching?)
  • The amount of land being encroached by developers, and how the Everglades are being slowly drained.

He also writes about national news, from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Vice-President Cheney, The NRA, The Iraq War, and Florida’s stand your ground law.

He is angry about what is happening to the environment. He is angry about government corruption, about greed, and ignorance (and the Bush administration).

He also loves Florida. Liberals will love this book, conservatives, not so much.

SOME FACTS ABOUT FLORIDA

It is the third most populous state.

St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in North America.

Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous US.

It is the flattest state in the US (mean elevation is 100 feet).

It is the only state with an “embassy” in Washington (Florida House).

There are two rivers with the same name – Withlacoochee – and they have nothing in common but the name.

It is the largest producer of citrus fruits in the US, 2nd in the world.

Gatorade was named for the University of Florida’s Gator.

Key West has the highest average temperature of any city in the US.

Miami is the only  metropolitan city in the US that borders on two national parks, The Everglades to the west and Biscayne Naitonal Park to the east.

Florida has more golf courses than any other state.

The Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist.

You are never more than 60 miles from a beach in Florida.

Clearwater has more lightening strikes per capita in the US.

It is illegal for unmarried women to parachute on Sundays.

Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the US.

There are more crazy facts about Florida, but with all the eccentricities, I still love it!

Next up, I’m traveling to Georgia. Oh wait, I live here!

You can see past posts regarding my quest below:

Alabama – Truman Capote

Alaska – Heather Lendt

Arkansas – Maya Angelou

Arizona by Jeannette Walls

Colorado by Kent Haruf

Conneticut by Sloan Wilson

Delaware by Lisa Ann Sandell

 

 

 

 

ALICE PRIN – AKA KIKI DE MONTPARNASSE

This is the 16th installment of “Women in Art” series

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Born Alice Prin, she eventually became known as Kiki De Montparnasse. In the 1920’s, Montparnasse, located on the left bank of the river Seine,  became the meeting place for the artistic world – with artists coming from all over the world. Gertrude Stein ran  a salon that was attended by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway. Sylvia Beach had Shakespeare and Company, almost going bankrupt publishing Ulysses for James Joyce.  Montparnasse created some great colorful characters, with Kiki in the middle of it all. She would appear at Le Jockey Bar and sing bawdy funny songs, climb up on the tables and lift her skirts to dance (not bothering with underwear). But, she was more than an entertainer, she was a friend to many, a model to some and a muse to others – most notably to Man Ray.

Kiki de Montparnassee 1926 - Man Ray

Kiki de Montparnassee 1926 – Man Ray

She was raised in total poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to Paris to live with her mother, working in shops and bakeries (She was fired from a bakery for darkening her eyebrows with matchsticks!) By the age of fourteen she was posing nude for sculptors – causing her mother to kick her into the streets.

It was Chaim Soutine that named her Kiki when she was posing for him.

Other artists she posed for included Foujita, Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Alexander Calder, Moise Kisling to name a few.

Kiki by Moise Kisling

Kiki by Moise Kissing

 Her companion for six years (or eight years depending on where you look) was the photographer Man Ray, and his most iconic image was a photograph of her, which was reproduced on the cover of the graphic novel about her life. She also starred in several surrealistic films by Man Ray (see link at the end of the post for a tribute to her)

Le Violon d'Ingres - Man Ray

Le Violon d’Ingres – Man Ray

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She was a painter in her own right, having a sold-out exhibition of her work in 1927 (however, none of these images were available). It is reported her drawings and paintings included self-portraits, dream landscapes and animals apparently painted in an Impressionistic style (which I find interesting as many of her friends were Surrealists).

In 1929 her memoirs were published (at age 28) with an introduction by Hemingway who wrote:

“about as close as people get nowadays to being a Queen, but that, of course, is very different from being a lady.”

For a few years in the 1930’s she owned a Montparnasse cabaret known at “Chez Kiki”.

“All I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red wine, and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

Her health began to decline in the 1930’s and she also began financing medical care for her mother.  She left Paris in 1940 to avoid the German occupation living mostly in the South of France.

Kik died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat. She was only 52, suffering from complications from alcoholism and drug dependence.  Her tomb says:

Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actree, painter, Queen of Montparnasse

The painter Tsuguharu Foujita said that with the death of Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnassee were buried forever.

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This book was apparently banned in the US until the 1970’s. In her honor, a daylily was named Kiki de Montparnasse. There is also a high end sex store that bears her name.

Here is a video of a tribute to Kiki with clips of some of the surrealistic films made by Man Ray.

If you are interested in learning more about Kiki, I highly recommend the graphic novel about her simply titled Kiki de Montparnasse.  I enjoyed researching this, I would like to read more about that glorious time in Paris, so you have recommendations, let me know. I found Kiki was more than just being famous for being famous, there was more to her than that! She lived gloriously for a time, with a tragic ending.

MARCH READING – A MIXED BAG

Well, March was an odd assortment of books.Unknown-3The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene: I have become my mother’s primary caregiver. Because I know we have to put her in assisted living, I make it a point to go through things on a daily basis (she has lived in her house for 40 years). So, when I found this, as well as The Clue in the Old Album, I decided to reread them – probably 50 years later. What fun! The Hidden Staircase is the 2nd book in the series. I felt it was superior to The Clue in the Old Album (which is #24). In fact, I think The Clue in the Old Album relied too much on coincidences. She must have had ALOT of money too! She flies instead of drives to the next town. She takes off for New York at the drop of a hat, she buys a sailboat for a race. But she seems to always wear a dress and when she goes on a date, she reflects about how much fun she had while waving goodbye to her date from the front porch. However, if I find more of them at my mom’s house, I’ll read them too. On an aside, on each book, I had marked off all the books I had read in the series on the back cover!

nancydrew017The Secret by Rhonda Byrne: I’ve heard this book referred to for years and decided to check it out (literally, from the library). It’s pretty basic stuff about the laws of attraction, but it is worth checking out. It needs to be read slowly. I believe in asking the Universe (or God if you prefer), because if you don’t put it out there, who knows what you really want? The secret to me is you have to be ready to see what is manifesting. I will reread it again, I believe you can get more out of it with each reading.

Fade Away by Harlan Coben: Myron Bolitar is a smart-alecky sports agent that keeps solving crimes that come his way. So when I ran across this in the thrift shop for 50 cents, I decided to go for it. Myron was a superstar in college basketball, but blows his knee out in a pre-season game, so he has never played a professional game. He receives a call from the man who was responsible for drafting him with the Celtics  to offer him a job. It seems his star player on the team, Greg Downing, has disappeared, and the owner wants Myron to locate him to ensure they make it to the playoffs. Downing was his nemesis in college football, marrying a girl Myron was in love with (who ended up cheating on Downing – with Myron no less!). The book is funny and fast. Don’t bother trying to figure out “who did it”, you probably won’t even guess what was done to start with!

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult: I have to admit, I got burned out on Jodi Picoult a few years back, but read this as a book club pick (it is a book club at the local library and surprise surprise! All but one had read the book!)  Each character gets it’s own chapter, starting with 13-year old Jenna. Jenna is living with her grandmother after her mother has disappeared and her father is in a mental hospital. Jenna enlists the aid of a psychic and a detective to help her find her mother. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary, her mother has been researching how elephants grieve – which was fascinating reading! It has  one of the most surprising endings I’ve read. The clues are all there, but most readers (me included) will get so caught up in the story they won’t notice them.  The book is well-researched and very thought-provoking.

The Drop by  Dennis Lehane: Apparently this is a novelization of a screenplay that was developed by Dennis Lehane. Set in Boston after Christmas, Bob is a rather luckless guy who tends bar for his cousin Marv and attends mass daily.  When walking home after work, he finds a puppy who was abused and thrown in the trash. Bob takes in the dog, but nothing is ever easy. Someone appears and claims to be the dogs rightful owner who wants the dog back. Then a Chechen crime syndicate makes an entrance. The cast is large, including a woman named Nadia, a sociopathic ex-con, and  a threatened Catholic parish. The plot is fast and there are some twists and turns. I’m going to have to check out the movie! starring Tom  Hardy and James Gandolfini (his final role).

The American Jungle: The Adventures of Charlie Piece by Harvey E. Oyer III: I read this book as part of my quest, to read a book by an author from each state, and this is one of my two selections for Florida. This is a young adult book based on real events. Charlie and his family move to South Florida in the 1870’s and settle near what is now West Palm Beach. Based on actual diaries, Charlie learns to hunt and boat, lives through hurricanes and explores the jungle he is living in. I will explore this further in my blog about authors from Florida.

True Evil by Greg Iles:  Alex Morse is a FBI that has just lost her sister. On her deathbed from a stroke, her sister makes a declaration that her husband murdered her. As she looks into it, Alex discovers someone has developed a biological weapon and are using it to kill. She believes Dr. Chris Shepard may be next. There is a large cast of characters, and the premise is almost science fiction, but it is a good tight thriller.  And at 500 pages, I kept turning them, not knowing what comes next.

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard: I chair a book club for a group of women artists. We usually read about art, but when this book came up in a discussion, we decided that writing is art too. Someone in the group had gone to a talk by the author at the local library, saying it was fascinating and the book sold out. See, the book is set in Atlanta, where he was a paramedic from 2004 to 2013 at the infamous landmark Grady Hospital. It made me stop and think about the people that are out to help others that are in those ambulances that race by.  The book is dark, but often humorous. the writing style is well crafted, often poetic. I hope to find more stories from Kevin Hazzard. Oh, when the book was mentioned in the discussion, I remembered hearing this story on NPR’s Fresh Air – have a look!

Wishing you all happy reading! I didn’t find any more Nancy Drew books, but I found Anne of Green Gables (which I have never read) and Little Women (another reading is long overdue).

 

 

 

 

DELAWARE FOR MY READING QUEST

I declared a reading quest last year of reading a book by an author from each state. This selection is for Delaware and I chose a young adult book A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD by  Lisa Ann Sandell. I liked it so much, I read the first book the author wrote – written entirely in verse which is no small feat – THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY.

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A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD is the story of Cora Bradley beginning high school dealing with the death of her older brother the year prior in a car crash. She feels as if everybody thinks of her as “girl whose brother died”. Her best friend Rachel supports her, but Rachel is becoming more interested in boys and popularity. Her father retreats to his study every night and her mom is crazy overprotective.

But, Cora has her art. She is placed in an advanced art class with a new teacher that never knew her brother Nate. It is in this class she connects with Damian, who was in the accident with her brother. Her parent blame him for the accident but Cora is drawn to him, partially because she wants to learn more about her brother.

Damian shows Cora a secret place where he and her brother were creating their own artwork. Cora starts believing in her artistic abilities and begins a series of artworks based on maps of places that meant something to her and her brother.

It is a sweet story and perfect for young girls. While the secondary characters are not totally fleshed out, you feel Cora’s despair. The portrayal of high school is a little dramatic, but confusion around first kisses feels real. She is trying to find her own way while carving out a little independence. This is the story of an ordinary girl with an artistic talent and vision. She worries about popularity, friendship and love – what any teenage girl does! The resolution at the end seems a little “tidy”, I saw it coming, but I didn’t see another way around it.

By the way, my sister in law was visiting and took this book to send to her grand-daughter who lives in Israel!

Here are some quotes from the book I thought I’d share:

“I wish I could say we all lived happily ever after. I can’t. But I can say we lived. .”

“Nate’s journey ended too early, and I thought I had to run away to some far-off land to start mine. But, for now, it seems to me that I have enough to explore right here. There’s a whole continent to discover in myself, and I know that it’s love – love for my parents, my friends, my brother, and my art – that will guide me. Love will be my map.”

THE WEIGHT OF THE SKY was the first book by author Lisa Ann Sandell. It tells the story of 16 year old Sarah who spends the summer working on an Israeli kibbutz. She is from a small American town and is the only Jewish girl in her class.  She considers herself a dork, but the trip to Israel is a transformational experience for her. Written entirely in verse. it was named one of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

I always like to include some facts about the state, so here goes some interesting facts about Delaware.

Delaware was the first state to ratify the federal Constitution, becoming the first state in the union.

It is the second smallest state with only 1,955 square miles.

Delaware if the lowest state, with the altitude about 60 feet above seawater.

There are only three counties in Delaware.

Delaware is the only state without a National Park.

There are more doctoral-level (PhD) scientists and engineers, as a percentage, than any other state.

It is the home of the first tractor made by John Deere.

The state legislature pasted the nation’s first Coastal Zone Act in 1971, barring companies that pollute.

Delaware is one of five states that have no sales tax.

If you have any ideas of what to read as I complete the quest, let me know. I have a fairly fluid partial list of states going forward.  Here is my tentative ideas (in no particular order).

Florida – I found most writers associated with Florida are not from there. I settled on a book by Padgett Powell, who teaches at the University of Florida. I also read a children’s book about Charlie Pierce, who grew up in the jungles of South Florida, arriving there in 1872.

Georgia – I’m reading a book of short stories by Mary Hood, that is on the Dekalb Library’s (where i live) list of books every Georgian should read. (A forward by Pat Conroy was the clencher).

Hawaii – The Descendants

Idaho – a book by Vardis Fisher

Iowa – Bill Bryson

Missouri – Mark Twain

North Carolina – Reynolds Price

South Carolina – Pat Conroy (even though he was born in Atlanta, he is so associated with South Carolina and has always been a favorite of mine, I might make an exception).

Michigan – Edna Ferber

Minnesota – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Louisianna – Walter Percy

I’ll take suggestions!

 

 

 

MY LITERARY PRINCE IS GONE

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I have never written a tribute to a writer before, and I think the best to do it is to share some quotes by Pat Conroy, who the world lost on March 4, 2016.

“Happiness is an accident of nature, a beautiful and flawless aberration.” The Lords of Discipline

“Music could ache and hurt, that beautiful music was a place a suffering man could hide.” Beach Music

“A story untold could be the one that kills you.”

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” The Prince of Tides

“”Here is all I ask of a book – give me everything. Everything, and don’t leave out a single word.” My Reading Life

“I’ve never had anyone’s approval, so I’ve learned to live without it.” The Great Santini

“Without music and dance, life is a journey through a desert.”

“I have lived with the terrible knowledge that one day I would be an old man still waiting for my life to start. Already, I pitied that old man.” The Prince of Tides

“The best thing about a small town is that you grow up knowing everyone. It is also the worst thing.” Beach Music

“I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation, scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say.”There, That taste. That’s the taste of my childhood.”

“In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden, for the sheer love of richness and the joy to stealing from the gods.” South of Broad

“Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next 10 years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart.” My Reading Life

“The only word for goodness is goodness, and it is not enough.” The Prince of Tides

“The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred of stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers. In my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.”

Thank youPat Conroy for every single word.